Gavin Williams was an intriguing prep pitcher in 2017 out of Cape Fear High in North Carolina. He was a highly projectable right-hander who was known for his big-time fastball velocity.
Despite his status as a top MLB draft prospect, Williams attended East Carolina University instead, declining the Tampa Bay Rays as a 30th-round pick.
Last year, Williams was once again a well-regarded draft prospect. But a finger injury and the pandemic-shortened season caused major-league teams to not meet Williams’ signing bonus demands.
Now in his fourth year at ECU, Williams is once again a sought-after prospect. This spring, he has made notable strides, proving to major-league teams that he can start in the pro ranks. Scouts project Williams as a potential second-round pick in July’s draft.
“It is so much easier going through the draft process because I know what to expect,” Williams said. “I am trying not to worry about it. The more you worry about it, the worse you are going to perform on the field.”
After experiencing mixed results as a hard-throwing reliever in his first three years at ECU, Williams has transitioned to the starting rotation smoothly this season. Williams has recorded a 1.48 ERA with 98 strikeouts and 16 walks allowed in 61 innings in 12 appearances (nine starts).
Williams is a 6-foot-6, 238-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball from a nearly over-the-top arm slot.
His fastball is a well-above-average offering that sits in the high-90s and touches triple digits. He commands it well in all quadrants of the strike zone.
This season, Williams’ slider has been his top secondary pitch. He started throwing the pitch his junior year at ECU. His slider has developed it into a quality put away pitch that he locates well.
In the offseason, Williams altered the grip of his curveball, as he wanted to move away from his loopy curveball, he said. Now, he uses a spike curveball grip, allowing him to throw it with a tighter spin. It sits in the mid-70s.
Williams flashes a mid-80s changeup. He hopes to refine his changeup and curveball in the future, he said.
“My fastball is my biggest strength,” Williams said. “I can move that anywhere. I also can control the running game well when someone gets on first base.”
This season, ECU is 38-13 and won the American Athletic Conference regular-season title. The Pirates have made the most NCAA tournament super regional appearances of any school without a College World Series appearance.
Williams hopes the Pirates can advance to the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska, this season in what will be his final year of college baseball.
“We want to get to Omaha,” Williams said. “But before that, we want to win 40 games, and we want to win a regional.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He has interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.